The prey ran for his life through the undergrowth. As he ran, the events of the past few months kept replaying themselves through his mind.
It had all began with that mocking video presentation (although it had not been on any playable media that he had recognised) that his people had received. They were still recovering from the first certifiable contact with a civilisation that was far, far more advanced than theirs. No hatter how much he tried (and he had tried, long before he had wound up in his present situation), the presentation, and the mocking tone of its presenter, kept replaying itself through his memory.
"So you think that you're the be-all and end-all of creation? Well, I'm afraid that your viewpoint isn't new to us. And you're now finding out that this is the case, aren't you?"
The prey halted to catch his breath, and laughed at the irony. Although he had thought that his body was superior to anything else in the universe, he now had to admit that he was wrong. Oh was he wrong! Not some two hours earlier had he found out how wrong both he and his people were when he had seen one of his own kind, secure in her false assumption of her innate superiority, try and attack their hunters. The memory of what had resulted was still quite vivid. As was the mocking voice of the beings his people had tried so hard to find.
"Sure, compared to what you're used to, you do have superior speed, strength, reflexes, endurance... the whole package. I have to admit that little twist you've developed is quite impressive. But we've been aware of the possibility of that trick... and rejected it as a fallacy. The documentation we've included with this presentation will explain it in full.
"But ruthless? Oh, you've done things that could be described as ruthless: after all, we've seen the evidence, and heard the testimony of your victims. But you've now seen our battlefields. You've seen what our foes and we have done to each other. What you did doesn't even begin to compare to the horrors we've inflicted on each other. And we're giving you even more proof of what you've stumbled into.
"Bottom line is, you've stumbled into the middle of a first-class war between two Alpha-level predators who took one look at each other and decided that this galaxy ain't big enough for the two of us. I could say that we didn't start it, which is true. But the truth is, whoever started it no longer matters. This is an 'us or them' struggle that makes your efforts look quite small in comparison. Although I'm sure that your victims would disagree with that statement."
The prey laughed ruefully at the memory of that colossal understatement. Yes, our victims would disagree. But at least we never hunted them for sport! He started at a sudden noise from behind him and, looking all around him, started running again.
The predator moved in a very deliberate manner. It swing its head from side to side, looking for any spoor from the prey it was tracking. Its large nostrils flared as it sniffed the air for any trace of its prey's scent. Its senses, which were being employed to the fullest, had been enhanced by over a millennium of genetic manipulation to produce one of the most potent hunters the galaxy had seen. But the predator thought of them as perfectly natural rather than augmented. Augmentation meant the mechanical enhancement offered by battle armour, the sensors of a warship or... the tricks used by Them. Them, the Race's never-to-be-damned-enough mortal enemies.
Although he wasn't theologically inclined by temperament, the predator had often wondered why God, in all of Her wisdom, had allowed such creatures as Them to exist. And these new creatures, like weaker versions of Them, and with an arrogance that was breathtaking to one of the Race's sensibilities!
The predator halted, and allowed itself to find its centre. It calmed its feelings, and emptied itself of all inner conflict. Inner conflict disturbs concentration, which interferes with Ke'h, the ability to be one with the environment. Without Ke'h, one cannot hunt, and leaves oneself vulnerable to other hunters.
As it attained inner calm, its nostrils picked up something: the smells of sweat... and fear. It turned in the direction that the scent came from and, looking, saw the spoor that it was looking for: damaged vegetation and footprints. Smiling to itself, it began to follow in a very deliberate manner the trail that its prey had left.
How about we stop running and try to think our way out of this mess? The prey brought itself up suddenly as this thought came unbidden from its subconscious mind. Disturbingly, his subconscious mind's voice sounded remarkably like that of the presenter in the video his people had received.
He looked around for the slightest sing of any danger. Satisfied that he was, for the moment, safe, he squatted down and began to try and work out a way to escape from his predicament. The key problem, though, was that his situation was totally unlike anything either he or his people had ever encountered.
"Ok. I don't know the first thing about either hunting or being hunted," he whispered to himself. Normally he would let his internal thought processes work on the problem, but this time his thoughts came out of his mouth unbidden. "But there has to be some logical method to it." He began to logically analyse the situation, looking around for any information that could help. His gaze alighted on the quite clear trail he had left behind through the undergrowth. "So... lesson one... don't leave an easily followed trail." As his thought processes began to calm him, he began to notice a rather strange smell. With a start, he noticed that it was coming from him, and was a strange mixture of sweat and... "So that's what they mean by the smell of fear," he said to himself. "Lesson two... remove as much of your scent as possible." He was well aware that the nightmare behind him had a much superior sense of smell than he did. If he could smell his scent, then the creature hunting him could also. "So... how to avoid leaving a trail?" Realising that he had stayed still for long enough, he got up from his squat and moved on, carefully trying not to further damage any more vegetation. Up ahead he could hear the sound of running water.
Suddenly he came to a sudden break in the tree canopy. Looking into the opening he saw a stream running right across his path. It did not appear to be deep. Excellent! I should be able to avoid leaving any tracks if I walk out as far as I can go and follow its course," he thought. He took in a lungful of air, and noticed the sharp smell of fresh water. And it could even hide my scent trail. Especially if I actually wash myself in it, he continued. He walked into the middle of the stream and, lying down in the middle, let it completely soak his clothing. After he was completely soaked, he got up, and looked around.
He was painfully aware that if he followed the stream's course downstream, he would eventually run into the compound from which he and his fellows had been released for the sport of his pursuers. He had no weapons, and didn't know how to fabricate any out of local materials. So... upstream, he thought, until I come to some stony area where I won't leave any footprints. Better wash myself before getting out again, though. With that, the prey began to walk upstream, ignoring the trail of muddy water he left behind.
The predator followed the clearly marked trail that its prey had left behind it. Every so often it "tasted that air" by breathing through its mouth, or examined both ground and vegetation. At one stage it even detected where its prey had halted for a while and deliberated over its situation. After that, the predator noted that its prey had become more careful with its movements. But not careful enough. Soon, the predator followed the trail to the edge of the break in the vegetation canopy.
It halted, and sniffed the air. Although where its prey had entered the water was clearly marked, there was no exit point, and the smell of water and rotting vegetation masked any other scents. Frustrated, the predator walked down to where its prey had entered the water and, placing one hand on the bed of the stream, began looking for traces of its prey. It soon noted where its prey had soaked itself, and its estimation of its prey's ability to learn rose. But, spotting the trail of muddy water coming down from upstream indicated to the predator the direction its prey had taken. It confirmed this by finding footprints under the surface of the water where the running water hadn't yet erased them.
So, its prey had decided to hide its passage by wading in the middle of the stream? Clever, but not clever enough to shake one as skilled as the predator in tracking prey. With that though in place, the predator began to follow the trail of muddy water upstream, pausing every so often to reassure itself that it was on the right course.
Soon, though, the trail of muddy water began to thin out. Obviously, the prey had climbed out of the stream. The predator began to examine the banks of the stream, looking for signs of where its prey had left the water. Eventually, it came to a stony part of the stream, and saw on its right-hand side areas of disturbed river stone where its prey had climbed out of the stream. Following, it soon encountered footprints heading back to where it had entered the stream. Its prey was clearly backtracking in an attempt to throw the predator.
This hunt had turned out to be far more entertaining than it had thought.
The prey soon reached where its trail had entered the break in the tree canopy. But he continued downstream, fearing to cross the stream where he had entered. So he missed seeing where the predator had entered the stream, and missed seeing that it hadn't been at all fooled by the ruse he had tried.
The prey soon reached another part of the stream that was all stony. It decided to cross there. It stepped out into the stream, soaked itself for a while, and then climbed out of the stream. He briefly looked back for any signs of pursuit, but, being unskilled in such matters, didn't notice the small disturbances that he had left behind when he had crossed the stream. Reassured that there was no pursuit, the prey disappeared into the undergrowth, no longer moving with any sense of urgency.
That mistake was to cost him dearly.
The predator soon found where its prey had crossed the stream. Although the traces of its passage were not obvious to the prey, they were clear to the keen eye of the predator. It rapidly crossed the stream, and soon took up the trail left behind by its prey.
But the predator soon noted that there were subtle differences. For one, the prey was no longer moving with any sense of urgency. For another, it was no longer trying to conceal its passage through the vegetation. That told the predator that its prey was confident that it had shaken off all signs of pursuit. Clearly its arrogance had gotten the better of it, a mistake that the predator would use to its fullest possible advantage.
The predator sniffed the air. It detected a wind shift. Combining that with the signs of its prey's passage, it worked out that it was slightly upwind of its prey. Keeping the trail in its sight, it shifted until it was no longer upwind. Although the prey's senses, when compared to the predator's, were laughable, the instincts imparted by millions of years of evolution now guided the predator to its final destination. Cautiously, it began the final section of the hunt.
The prey soon reached a large clearing at the top of a small rise. Once a giant of the forest had stood here, until old age and decay had brought it crashing down in ruin. However, it was also clear that its remains had been cleared away, and the clearing left as some kind of break from the forest's darkness.
The prey looked about. This was a large clearing. If he stayed in the centre, he should be able to see any danger coming after him. And, despite his "superior" physique, the strains of an adrenaline overload, plus the effort of moving through the forested terrain, were beginning to tell. He just had to rest for a while. Besides, he felt confident that he had shaken his pursuer.
Looking back over the way that he had come, the prey sat down.
The predator soon realised just what direction its hunt was taking it. Its prey was heading for the large clearing that hunting parties used to land and take off from on hunts on this side of the stream. Still keeping downwind, the predator followed the trail until it could see the edges of the clearing. Then, crouching down low, it crept towards the edge, and, carefully, oh so carefully, it looked out through the vegetation.
There! Its prey was right there, sitting in the centre of the clearing! It must feel safe, to do that! But, it was still not taking any chances, as it sat looking back along its path.
The predator was somewhat mollified. At least its prey hadn't taken all leave of its senses. But it was almost within striking distance. Still keeping downwind, and keeping its eyes on its prey, the predator began to circle off to one side of the clearing, taking great care to stay within the encircling vegetation.
Slowly, ever so slowly, it moved into position for the final lunge...
A sudden movement from the clearing's edge caught the corner of the prey's right eye. It jumped up and whirled in that direction, and saw the nightmare that had been tracking it.
The Raptor stood two metres tall. It carried no weapons, but had attached to it a harness that carried, in its pouches, an assortment of tools. But it needed no weapons for this activity. It swept down onto its prey, mouth agape, the claws in its hands, which were so disturbing in their similarity to those of the prey, out, ready to rend or snare. But far more terrifying were the massive, scimitar-like claws that it bore on its hind feet.
Its distant ancestors had used those claws, not to rend, but to deliver puncture wounds to its prey that, piercing major blood vessels, would cause its prey to bleed to death in a matter of moments. But the Raptors had improved on this, encasing those terrifying claws in a metallic sheath that had a reinforced tip and a sharpened inner edge. They preferred to disembowel their prey, something that the prey had seen with his own eyes.
Panicked, the prey turned to run, and felt a massive blow to his back, which knocked him sprawling to the ground. Instantly he felt a telltale wetness spring out across his back, and knew that he had taken a blow from the Raptor's hands. Shakily, he got to his feet and turned, only to see the Raptor launch itself into that killing, disembowelling kick that he had seen used on one of he fellows.
The Cylon of the kind that was known to its Colonial victims as the "Brother Cavil type" opened his mouth. The scream of horror that had built in its chest abruptly died as he felt a sickening tearing sensation in his abdomen. Looking down, he saw his intestines, covered in a shower of blood, slide out of the great rent that the Raptor had torn in his abdomen. Vainly, he sank to his knees and tried to replace them.
Then, all went black as he felt the Raptor's mouth close over his head and shut.
The Cylon gasped as his consciousness returned. Wildly, he looked around. The last thing he remembered was vainly trying to put his intestines before that walking nightmare had crushed his skull.
Slowly, his surroundings began to register onto his consciousness. Resurrection tank! I'm in a resurrection tank! he wildly thought. He looked around the darkened interior that surrounded the bath of viscous liquid he was immersed in. Am I on a resurrection ship? he wondered. Or was there a passing base ship that caught my fleeing consciousness and kept it in storage until I could be resurrected?
Suddenly, he noticed that things were not quite all right. Where are the others? Where are the other Cylons to help me return to consciousness, to life? he thought. Angrily, he looked around, and noticed a shadowed figure that stood off to one side. Somebody's going to pay for this carelessness, he angrily thought. "Hey!" he shouted at the figure. "Hey, you! What's going on here? Where's the rest of the crew?" he angrily demanded.
The shadowed figure turned its head towards the Cylon, and then turned back to its instruments.
The Brother Cavil-type Cylon in the bath grew more agitated. "Well, how about helping me out of this frakking stuff!" he yelled.
The shadowed figure then turned and stepped into the light. From the box attached to its harness came a cold, reptilian voice. "Greetings, prey," it said.
The Brother Cavil-type Cylon's scream resembled that of a damned soul finally realising that it was indeed, in hell everlasting.
Well, here is my first short-story spin-off! First, thank-you to all of those people who left such kind and flattering reviews about my Prologue chapter of what I do promise will be a much bigger story. All I am waiting for is for more "research material" to come in regarding Season 3 before I continue. I have a pretty good idea of where I want to take it, but the devil is in the detail.
Secondly, I want to thank Dracowar for providing the inspiration for this short story. He commented, and I quote, Those toasters are so fracked especially when they meet the Raptors! This got me thinking.
As you are now aware, the Raptors are descended from the Terran Velociraptor, and as such, are a hunting species. So, I sat down and worked out what would happen if some Cylons, complete with their "resurrection equipment," fell into Raptor "hands," so to speak. Since they enjoy hunting, and since Cylons, when "killed", download into a new body...
As to why I chose the "Brother Cavil" type Cylon to be the prey in this hunt... From what I have seen so far they appear to have the greatest intellectual pretentions amongst the Cylons, with the emphasis being placed on the "pretentious" part. Also, the meaning of the word "cavil" is as follows: Cavil: To raise captious and frivolous objections; to find fault without good reason; to oppose by finding trivial faults; (n) A captious or frivolous objection; captious or specious argument (The International Webster New Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, 1972 Edition.) So what better thing to do to a "caviller" than to put him in a situation where no amount of cavilling would save him?
Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed this little side-trip. Depending on how the old Muse goes, I may wind up making more of them!